Parks commission talks fewer off-leash hours, tables bocce ball

Los Altos Parks and Recreation Commission members bit off more than they could chew by scheduling two controversial issues for discussion at their Sept. 9 meeting.

Commissioners conducted a lengthy discussion on attaching an implementation plan for an off-leash dog hours pilot program at Heritage Oaks Park – a program the commission approved in a narrow 4-3 vote May 20. Neighborhood opposition at that meeting spurred formation of a subcommittee led by commissioners Scott Spielman and Teresa Morris to find compromise between neighbors and dog owners.

Ultimately, they recommended reduction of off-leash hours to 90 minutes in the mornings and evenings, and no weekend hours. Also suggested was the formation of a neighborhood review committee to keep tabs on the program.

Although commissioners reminded speakers that comment was on the implementation plan, several reiterated their stance against any off-leash hours. Neighbors on McKenzie Avenue bordering the park collected 150 signatures in opposition.

Commissioner Yong Yeh repeatedly asked why the commission was revisiting a program it had already approved. He added that the commission has to make decisions on behalf of the entire city, not one neighborhood.

After rambling discourse and public input, often delayed by technical glitches at the virtual meeting, commissioners in the post-midnight hours decided to leave unchanged their original Heritage Park recommendation to the Los Altos City Council and attached the implementation plan with no endorsement.

The council is tentatively scheduled to hear the off-leash dog hours pilot program proposals for both Hillview Baseball Field and Heritage Oaks parks at its Nov. 10 meeting.

Pending council approval, the nine-month pilot programs would take effect next year.

The lack of full commission support on the implementation plan left Morris clearly frustrated. She referenced extensive effort with Spielman on working with park neighbors and dog owners to craft the plan.

“We’re throwing the residents under the bus,” she told commissioners.

Spielman, however, noted the attached implementation plan will still be considered by council, regardless of the commission’s lack of endorsement.

Bocce proposal stalls

The off-leash hours discussion left little time to tackle the second sensitive issue – the proposed Grant Park bocce ball courts – so commissioners tabled it to their next scheduled meeting, Oct. 14.

Former Mayor King Lear has led an effort over the past year to gather approximately $50,000 in donations from the nonprofit seniors group Los Altos Legacies and the Rotary Club of Los Altos. Lear sees the two proposed courts as a community-building effort to bring outdoor activity to the south Los Altos park for seniors and other bocce ball fans. The effort, however, has met with opposition from some residents, who claimed the courts would take up too much space in a small park and preclude other activities.

Despite taking no action, commissioners listened to residents’ comments on the issue, but by 12:30 a.m., the number of speakers had been reduced down to two. One of them, Frank Martin, launched into a tirade over what he perceived as the commission’s “corrupt” process.

“Why do we need two sets of courts at two different parks?” he asked, referring to bocce ball courts in the Los Altos Community Center plan.

Martin’s outburst prompted commission chairwoman Tanya Lindermeier to apologize for his “abrasive language.”

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